Victims of stalking looking forward to Arizona's new law

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By Andrew Michalscheck By Andrew Michalscheck

PHOENIX -- Arizona is getting ready to update its decades-old law on stalking, bringing it to the 21st century.

HB-2549 goes into effect next month, making it illegal to "terrify, intimidate, threaten or harass" a person through electronic communication-- like texts, emails and instant messaging.

"It was put on the books back in the early 70's and we've just never gotten around to updating it," said Republican Rep. Ted Vogt, who sponsored the bill.

Before, only the telephone was covered.

Rep. Vogt said the previous law made it illegal to "annoy" or "offend" someone but first amendment advocates raised concerns about that language. So it was removed.

"We're not engaging in Internet censorship, that's not what this bill has ever been about. It's really about someone who has been harassed or stalked by an individual," Vogt stated.

Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter aren't covered under the law because users, according to Vogt, can delete posts and ban users from having contact.

Victims like Jacob Zellmann, 19, are glad the state is keeping up with the times.

"No one has the right to feel uncomfortable inside of their own home, let alone when they're out and about fearing for their life from a stalker," said Zellmann.

Zellmann was only 15 when he became the victim of online stalkers, ironically after making a Youtube video condemning cyber-bullying.

The teen received hundreds of phone calls and threatening emails, but felt like his hands were tied.

"It makes me extremely happy to know steps are being taken, and the state that I live in is becoming more safe and secure," said Zellmann.

Victims' rights advocates are also happy about the law.

"Stalking has become much more prevalent now than it was 10, 15, 20 years ago," said Patricia Klahr, the Founder of Chrysalis - an organization that works with domestic violence victims and offenders.

Klahr said the new law will deter stalkers, but it will take education on everyone's part.

"And that's from the victims to the offenders to community-based organizations to police departments to the judges," said Klahr. "There's a new law enacted and it's zero tolerance. Period."

Additional resources:

Teen Lifeline Hotline: 602.248.8336, 1.800.248.8336